West Virginia Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

West Virginia Law School 1L Study Guide for Criminal Law

I. Basic Concepts of Criminal Law

A. Actus Reus & Mens Rea

Actus Reus refers to the physical act of the crime, while Mens Rea denotes the mental intent behind the act. Both are necessary elements to prove a crime.

B. Strict Liability Crimes

Strict liability crimes are those where proving intent is not necessary. The mere act (actus reus) is sufficient to convict. Traffic violations typically fall under this category.

C. Inchoate Crimes

Inchoate crimes are acts that precede the commission of the crime, such as conspiracy, solicitation, or attempt. Despite the actual crime not being completed, these acts can still be prosecuted.

II. Categories of Crimes

A. Personal Crimes

Personal crimes are offenses against individuals and include assault, rape, and murder.

B. Property Crimes

Property crimes involve interference with the property of another, such as theft, robbery, burglary, and arson.

C. Inchoate Crimes

As stated above, inchoate crimes are acts taken towards committing a crime but not completed.

D. Statutory Crimes

Statutory crimes are violations of specific statutes and can include white collar crimes, such as fraud.

E. Financial Crimes

Financial crimes involve deceit and are typically committed by business professionals. Examples include embezzlement, insider trading, and money laundering.

III. Case Law

A. Regina v. Dudley and Stephens

Issue: Can necessity be a defense to murder?

Rule: Necessity is not a defense to murder.

Application: The defendants killed and ate a sickly crew member to survive after being stranded at sea.

Conclusion: Guilty of murder despite the circumstances of survival.

B. People v. Goetz

Issue: What is the standard for self-defense?

Rule: The standard for self-defense is both subjective (the defendant believed it was necessary to use force) and objective (a reasonable person in the same situation would have believed it necessary).

Application: Goetz shot four men on a subway, claiming they were about to rob him.

Conclusion: The jury found Goetz not guilty on all charges except for illegal gun possession.

IV. Defenses to Crimes

A. Affirmative Defense

The defendant admits to the act but asserts a defense that justifies or excuses their actions. Examples include self-defense and insanity.

B. Insanity Defense

The defendant asserts they were mentally ill at the time of the crime and did not understand the nature of their actions. The M’Naghten rule, irresistible impulse test, Durham rule, and Model Penal Code tests measure insanity.

C. Intoxication

Intoxication can sometimes negate the mens rea of a crime. However, voluntary intoxication is typically not a defense to crimes.

V. West Virginia Specific Laws

A. Felony Murder Rule

In West Virginia, a killing that occurs during the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, burglary, breaking and entering, escape from lawful custody, or any offense punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary can be charged as murder.

B. Hate Crime Law

West Virginia has a specific hate crime law that enhances the penalties for crimes committed on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation or sex.

VI. Model Penal Code

The Model Penal Code (MPC) is a guideline used by many states to standardize criminal law. It provides clear definitions and categories for crimes and defenses. Understanding its provisions can be useful for comparative purposes.

VII. Final Exam Preparation

Review your notes, textbooks, and case briefs. Use IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) method for case briefs. Practice writing out answers to hypothetical situations, as this is common in law school exams.

This guide is a comprehensive foundation for your study of criminal law in West Virginia. Use it in combination with your class notes and textbooks for successful preparation for your final semester exam.

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